Tagged: acoustic

Shô Me The Way

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Sarah Peebles with Evan Parker, Nilan Perera, Suba Sankaran
Delicate Paths: Music for Shõ
NETHERLANDS UNSOUNDS 42u CD (2014)

‘Taking time’ along ‘Delicate Paths’ produces curious audio minutiae throughout this set of careful arrangements for shô – the 17-piped mouth organ associated with Japanese gagaku music – which includes duo improvisations with Evan Parker, guitarist Nilan Perera and vocalist Suba Sankaran; an electroacoustic assemblage of nature recordings made in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and a set of solo tonal explorations by composer Sarah Peebles. However, to characterise this music as ‘slow’ might be to impose a comparison where none is warranted: if performances proceed at a crawl, it’s likely because they arise from an unusually still state of mind, quite possibly influenced by the sine wave-like convergences issuing from Peebles’ chosen instrument, which build to a near-climax in the album’s latter stages. Indeed, self-hypnosis is suggested by the tonal blossoming that emerge during the four ‘Resinous Folds’ pieces, while co-performers display an uncommon level of sympathy in duo settings.

Inspired by tone clusters and tuning pieces drawn from Japanese gagaku music 1, these explorations convey a ‘contemplative’ sound that Peebles explicitly distinguishes from any idea of ‘easy’ listening; rather a singular, timbral complexity that envelopes and dissolves stray thoughts. The drawback for more impatient listeners might be the concentration required for the longer stretches that seem to hang without appetite for drama, in which case satisfaction may well be found along the three ‘Delicate Paths’ in which select guests provide contrast without contrivance, with restraint verging on ceremonial; notably so in ‘Delicate Path (Sandalwood)’, in which Suba Sankaran’s snaking vocals curl and disperse like incense smoke upon Peeble’s rising tonal currents.

A more extra-terrestrial phenomenology occurs ‘In the Canopy (Part 1)’, the shô held like a candle in a churning cavern, metallic tonality spiralling outwards into a fading universe. And yet the sounds emanate from sources natural: field recordings of birds and insects captured during Peebles’ travels in New Zealand. The stillness of the surroundings – not to mention the alchemical importance of bees audible in the environment 2 – prompted pause for thought and a hint of ‘that which is just beyond our perception’ 3, which seems an apposite designation for the unusual beauty of these eight pieces.

  1. Which Peebles studied in Japan in the 1980s.
  2. Black bees wax, known as cerumen, formerly comprised the coating of reeds for shô.
  3. As it translates from Maori phraseology.

A Night at the Opera

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Lithuanian composer Arturas Bumšteinas pulls off a nifty conceptual flourish with his Epiloghi (UNSOUNDS 39u) composition, joining the dots between a number of otherwise unrelated fields of endeavour in sound art, theatre design, opera and philosophy. The basic building blocks of the piece are passages of acoustic sound effects, all realised using antique noise-making equipment that you’d have found backstage at the Baroque theatre for when they needed sound effects like thunder or storms at sea. If you’ve ever seen The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, you’ll click that Terry Gilliam has a similar interest in the visual props for that style of theatrical bravado. Bumšteinas and his crew had to scout around various European theatre museums to find these rattling and wheezy noise-makers. If any of this puts you in mind of Luigi Russolo and the Futurists, that is precisely the idea; the subtitle of the work is “Six Ways of Saying Zangtumbtumb”, and there’s a sample from a recording of Marinetti’s intense vocal babbling on one track. Apparently even this doesn’t constitute enough conceptual layers for our young Lithuanian, since he matches the Futurist Orchestra’s “family of noises” with six basic human emotions – desire, hate, love, sadness, joy and wonder – a shopping list which has been culled directly from the lost opera Dafne of 1597, composed by the Italian musician Jacobo Peri, and a work which is generally understood by musicologists and historians to be the first work that we could reasonably describe as an “opera”. Lastly, a 17th-century philosophical treatise by Descartes completes the conceptual structure. Whew. It’s to his credit that Bumšteinas outlines all of this complexity in just two paragraphs of concise, factual sleeve notes.

I suppose the real complexity is embedded in the work, and the listener is rewarded with the enjoyable task of unpacking six tightly-packed suitcases of ideas and sound-art from the album. The theatrical sound effects are used very sparingly, and not at all with the aggression which I always assumed propelled the angry young Futurists when they unleashed their acoustic roarers on an unsuspecting public (although in fact it seems The Art of Noises was nowhere near as furious or violent as we might have supposed). The works flow deliciously, guided by the exquisite harpsichord and piano passages played by Christine Kessler; and while I’m pretty hopeless with classical music, even I can spot the quotations from Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ which are seamlessly embedded into the fabric of ‘Epilogue 5. Joy’. If I am right, this leads one to suspect that further clever pastiches from musical history are woven elsewhere into this unusual composition. The album concludes with a related piece, the 22-minute ‘Night on the Sailship’ which contains no music at all, and was created exclusively using the historic theatre noise machines and other stage machine components that required cogs, pulleys and winches. It points out what an elaborate and complex machine the Baroque theatre could be; small wonder that the technicians of the day had to be trained like sailors to operate the rigging, as the composer indicates in his notes. One imagines that getting the curtain to raise was an operation as difficult as hoisting the mainsail on board a tea clipper. ‘Night on the Sailship’ casts itself as the soundtrack to this imaginary sailing vessel, full of atmospheric creaks and rattles, and it’s an ingenious stroke of acoustic composition made using inanimate objects in a massively innovative manner. We’ve always found the work of Bumšteinas never less than intriguing, but this is his best yet. From February 2014.

Refusenik

Count The Clock

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Dirty Purple Turtle are a Swiss combo doing a plausible pastiche of rock music styles on Medicine & Madness (SPEZIALMATERIAL RECORDS SM044CD025)…mixing the now-famous unstoppable drumming rhythms of Klaus Dinger (Neu! and La Düsseldorf) with minimal synth noise and vocalising that inherits the blankness of a million Human League impersonators and the laid-back stoner vibe from certain strains of American punk…elsewhere, we hear pleasing electropop melanges that are just the right side of the “Cold Wave” camp to remain enjoyable and approachable, having mutated their way down some sliproad off Ralf Hutter’s Autobahn. The trio of Daniel Zimmermann, David Zingre and Lukas Pulver do all the songwriting and make the music; Zimermann supplies most of the sounds with eighteen hands, while Zingre drums with feet of an impala. The variety and texture is added to a large degree by the talented guest vocalists, which include Sean Frank Claassen, Severine Steiner and Reto Wittwer, but it’s Zoe Binetti who stands out for me, bringing the correct amount of drama-school precision to her tracks. On ‘Gods Left Eye’ she spits out a clipped monotone recit with the perfect balance of cynicism and desperation. Matter of fact, all the singers / vocalists are required to limn a portrait of some uncertain future time where everyone is already half cyborg or else has simply had the humanity crushed out of them by market forces, yet they still manage to retain an iota of dissent and rebellion in their tone. To that end their voices are almost invariably fed through a battery of distortion and flattening effects. The cover photo hints at this dystopia, with the usual “concrete jungle” imagery and the old “railings” photography cliché suggesting that cities are no more than a prison for the populace, with an armed and helmeted police guard vigilantly surveying the compound. Since they apparently share common ground with France’s most elegant urban paranoiac Franck Vigroux, maybe they sneak over the border in a VW van and team up with him some day. From 2nd January 2014.

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More cello goodness from Fred Lonberg-Holm once again teaming up with the Swiss woodwind fellow Christoph Erb, last heard from with 2013’s Feel Beetrr. With addition of Keefe Jackson on sax and bass clarinet, and second cellist Tomeka Ried, you’ve got a winning combination of earthy and eerie tones happening right there in the room while you enjoy a snack of strong black coffee and organic biscuits. Duope (VETO-REC / EXCHANGE 008) is explicitly intended to be “exploring the options of sound” and perhaps no more than that, so everyone playing is moving beyond the narrow expectations of free jazz or improvisation and just creating bucketloads of fascinating tones and ear-crumpets, just for the pure joy of doing it. Strange moanings and heaving stretchy forms wrap around each other like gigantic friendly tadpoles holding a wrestling match beneath the sea. No attempts to fall back on syncopation or swing feeling, and yet the internal logic of each writhing episode is highly dynamic, the lifeforms and organisms constantly dividing and multiplying in unexpected fashion. However you can also feel the jazz intuition from all four players underpinning the work; when classically-trained musicians attempt anything vaguely atonal like this, assuming they can even do it without breaking into a superior smirk at their secret knowledge that it’s not “real” music, it usually ends up stiff, awkward, contrived. Not here, mates. Beautiful screenprinted chipboard cover, as usual. Arrived 14 January 2014.

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Vivid and beautiful recordings of exotic birds, frogs and insects abound on Morne Diablotins (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 139), a collection of immaculate field recordings made by Rodolphe Alexis. Its subtitle is “a walk among the Lesser Antilles, Guadeloupe and Dominica,” and the creator’s intention was to catch a glimpse of the sort of unspoiled vistas the Caribbean Islands may have presented to the eyes and ears of 15th century man, i.e. before Columbus and (my forebears) the Pinzon Brothers set foot on the Bahamas. Alexis did his work by carrying his equipment to the large national parks and nature reserves of the Antilles, areas of which retain their “primary forests” 1 on their volcanic slopes. Net result is another classic Gruenrekorder release of simple, unpretentious beauty. It’s all great, but the 18-minute recording of ‘Grand Etang at Dusk’ is stunningly beautiful, and its utter serenity should pass on a palpable sense of inner peace to the listener, allowing us to regain a strong connection to the very roots of the world, the essence of creation. Parrot-loving Rodolphe is also a sound designer, installation artist, and electro-acoustic composer associated with Double-Entendre and the Vibro revue. From 17 December 2013.

  1. Some also use the term “old-growth forests”. It denotes a woodland that has achieved great age without any significant disturbance and thus boasts many ancient and unique ecological features.

Monaural Headache

Monno‘s great album Cheval Ouvert (IDIOSYNCRATICS IDCD007) is a four-footed tromper for sure…it comes thumping out of the gate like a heavyweight animal, equipped with extra leaden weights on its hooves…it’s an example of what happens when American post-post heavy metal genres like stoner, doom and mathrock start to rub up against European inflections and accents, and when they do the fur really flies when the nuggets hit the shovel. Said Europeans are a crack team of assassins named Marc Fantini, Derek Shirley, Gilles Aubry and Antoine Chessex…Chessex is not unfamiliar in our asylum, he’s the Swiss genius who made an incredible sqwakeroo single with Arnaud Rivière in 2009 (I know I keep referring back to it, I’ve never gotten over its scorching attack) and is also capable of building strange alienating minimal compositions out of electronics…Aubry, also Swiss, also an all-rounder, into doing sound installations, free improvisation as well as performing rock music to the hungry massed crowds…he contributes the powerful electronic eruptions to Monno’s music…his noises bubble out of him like so much marmalade…while Fantini and Shirley are a rhythm section straight out of a building yard, men you could use to demolish a tower block in less then eighteen seconds, who play their instruments with sledgehammers. On Cheval Ouvert, the first couple o’ these four long tracks are airless poundage rhythm attacks, with everyone concerned hammering out their guts on the anvil of destiny and producing a fine pulp…delicious noise, refreshing absence of four beats to the bar…abstract art drum painting…free rock atonality crashing up against noise wall, with plenty of sweaty rock attitude like the Angel Whirl on top…greatness indeed…

Then there’s Track III where we suddenly slow down that heated pace and enter the Ice Age, where woolly mammoths wearing woolly tights lumber about aimlessly in the Arctic waste anticipating an early extinction. It’s here with these hideously slowed beats and grim bass grunts that we keenly feel the presence of ex-Swans Roli Mosimann, who recorded the sessions in Poland. Come to that we also feel the cold, cold ground of Poland’s iron terrain…in that bleak framework, electrical hurlements and heavily distorted sax blasts ring out to add to the frowning despair. Lastly Track IV which is pretty much an intense wall of bizarre, continual sound, where the implacable synth manglings of Aubry shred your face through sheer persistence and leave no space for argument or dissent. When the drums and bass join in this conversation, they’ve been studio-processed into some sort of grotesque parody of rock music, an abstraction beyond the realms of acceptability…this “experimental noisecore” band have been shattering illusions of the innocent since as far back as 1999, when they first met up in Lausanne…the United Nations in Geneva sensed imminent disaster and tried to ban the meeting, but they failed, luckily for us…this seems to be their fifth album, after two fairly recent ones they made for Conspiracy Records. All of ’em are Swiss, so they enjoy paying 96 Euros for one cup of coffee, apart from the Canadian bass player Shirley, who’s the relative newcomer. They’ve toured with some of the finest acts in American noise-rock, including Jesu, Isis and Lightning Bolt. This album is graced with a James Plotkin mastering and a superb cover artwork by Marc O’Callaghan, itself very redolent of the animalistic, visceral and hallucinatory nature of the music. Need I add…essential!

While we’re glancing in the direction of the Alps, why not take an Aspirin (METONIC RECORDS MET-00015). Aspirin is mostly a quirky Swiss combo led by the keyboardist Manuel Engel, a civilian about whom we don’t know much but at one time he may have been a member of the Bienne City Arkestra who made a record of off-beat jazz for Metonic Records in 2011. On their self-titled album, he leads a foursome of players who work their bass, guitar and cello in ingeniously imaginative ways, creating short tunes which effortlessly blend a whole morass of trans-continental music styles (including Arabic and African influences, according to one listener) in a skeletal, hand-knitted form, informed by elements of improvisation and 1980s New Wave. That’s tasty enough for starters – a fine dish of couscous, stuffed vine leaves and tofu, topped with lashing of bright red Glaswegian chilli sauce – but there’s also the French singer Ana Igluka, who was invited to sing four songs, and when she appears, her poised tones transform everything. She uses the band as a warped cabaret backing combo to support her breathless, urgent version of the “chanson” form, where not a second of space is wasted and she packs in as many delirious beautiful harmony overdubs and grace-notes as she can in less than three minutes. In some cases the songs veer off into a hurried vocal recit, almost like a subtext running alongside the tune; an academic deconstruction of its own inner core. She’s a fascinating cocktail of Edith Piaf, Françoise Hardy and Simone de Beauvoir, wrapped up in a compacted mysterious package. Astonishing work!

Portable Crocodiles

A moody, sullen collaboration is what we’d expect when Miguel A García and Nick Hoffman play together, which is what Vile Cretin (INTONEMA INTO010) delivers across four tracks of seething desolation. In terms of what I’ve heard from either of these players, it’s one of the more three-dimensional improvised efforts, by which I mean the elements are distanced and positioned in ingenious manner, perhaps using skilled studio placement techniques, to suggest vast depths and enormous spaces. There may not be much happening in the aural department other than surly crackles and nameless echoing whimpery whispers, but they are happening in a fabulously resonant manner. Their two personalities, as far as I understand these enigmatic creators, can be discerned manifesting themselves on the album to some degree, for instance I’d like to think that Garcia brought the bad tempered sulking aspects to track 01, while Hoffman’s penchant for steely and imperceptible anti-sounds has dominated track 02. But the pair succeed in creating unusual sound art that is more than the sum of their personal characteristics, and it’s a fine slow-moving broodster of electrical gloomery. Of course, Hoffman’s surreal and violent cover drawings, this time printed in a sumptuous red, may give you a completely different impression of the work. From 29 November 2013.

Coen Oscar Polack and Herman Wilken paint two landscapes in sound on their Fathomless LP (NARROMINDED NM064); one side depicts the Barents Sea, the other side a green wilderness in the Sundarbans. And my goodness, what a very literal job they make of it; the first side is sluggish ambient drone spread thickly with sound effects that imitate the sound of the ocean tides and Arctic winds in a highly prosaic manner. The “jungly” side is peppered with bird-song effects, and hazy drones attempting to invoke shimmering heat of the baking sun. Atmospheric and pleasant, but not very imaginatively done; it’s one step away from being a BBC Sound Effects record. From November 2013.

Haven’t heard from The Magic Carpathians Project for some years, but they sent us a couple of interesting items which arrived 11 November 2013. On T.A.M. (WORLD FLAG RECORDS WFR 043), the duo of Anna Nacher and Marek Styczynski are joined by Tomasz Holuj for five extended group improvisations, which they describe as “symbiotic music”. I suppose the term “symbiotic” is another way of highlighting the dependencies that can grow between musicians who play together. The Carpsters have made a name for themselves over the years, on account of their unique way of extending the traditional musics of Eastern Europe by blending them with Indian music, free jazz, radio waves, and the unusual singing styles of Anna Nacher. At one point it seemed like they were going down quite well with your latterday psychedelica revivalist types, and they enjoyed an association with the American label Drunken Fish Records – home to many freaky wild-eyed droners in the late 1990s and early 2000s. T.A.M. seems to be more in the area of traditional music, being mainly acoustic and featuring a lot of percussion instruments, but it’s also very strong on ethereal droning effects and unusual stringed instruments, and the music they create is extremely original and hard to pin down. The trio just keep on playing, wailing, hammering and droning in a deceptively gentle mode, doing little to vary the mood, tempo or root note for long periods of time, until a species of greyed-out Nirvana is attained. Not an immediate “grabber”, but your listening perseverance will pay off. I think the recordings are all live, there’s no overdubbing and the mixing was done in real time. Released on their own label World Flag Records. My copy has a nice original artwork insert.

On Vtoroi (MIKROTON CD 25), we have the team-up of two Russian heavyweights – the most estimable Ilia Belorukov, and Kurt Liedwart, who is in fact Vlad Kudryavstev and the owner of Mikroton Records who released this sulky brooder of contemporary improvisation. On these 2012 sessions, Belorukov is playing a prepared saxophone, an iPod, contact mics and objects – in short, the sort of setup I used to associate with the “EAI” school of improvisers; at any rate I recall that Günter Müller frequently used an iPod as part of his live processing. Liedwart brings his field recordings and objects to the table, along with ppooll, a program which appears to be some sort of networking bridge that works with certain implementations of Max/MSP. The majority of this record is a bit too under-eventful for me on today’s spin, particularly the long track ‘Ikkemesh’ with its hissing, beeping, and long periods of uncertain rustling and clunking, but I’m very taken with ‘Antra’, which is a nice extended slab of grumbly white noise mixed up with other scuzzy layers, and containing just the right amount of semi-musical content to keep it interesting. It gives off a mood of existential futility. The duo sustain this taut position for over ten minutes, as if performing painful physical exercise, and probably gazing into the mirror with blank expressions the while. Kurt also did the cover art, showing some Stephen O’Malley influence in overlaying a found photograph with geometric shapes. From 6th November 2013.

The Loving Tongue

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Here’s the latest outburst of mean-spirited evil acoustic gittarring hoodoo from Bill Orcutt, the guitarist from Harry Pussy who caused such a stir when he resurfaced from a long silence armed with an acoustic guitar so fierce that you could hear the very grain of the wood when he played it in his angry, restless and atonal way. On A History Of Every One (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 173) the ferocity that I seem to recall from 2009’s A New Way To Pay Old Debts may have mollified by one or two degrees, allowing us better to concentrate on Orcutt’s curious approach where he mixes primitive blues/country idioms with a very strong bent on modernistic free improvisation, so that he continues to comes across as a more forceful and grumpier version of John Fahey inhabited by a ghostly variant of Sonny Sharrock with thin reedy fingers clutching the neck like a lifeline. The sensation of hearing many poltergeists channelled through a single physical entity is reinforced by Orcutt’s eerie vocalisings on this record, which aren’t really singing so much as the sort of weird wailing that most great jazz pianists use, in what I had always assumed was a sort of guide-track to keep their keys in tune with the melody and their body in time with the swing. If you scope the back cover of this release you’ll see a clutch of titles that reflect either an appreciation of primitive swamp blues (‘Black Snake Moan’, ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’, ‘Massa’s in the Cold Cold Ground’) or allude to standards from the American songbook of Grade-A schmaltz, including ‘White Christmas’, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ and ‘Zip A Dee Doo Dah’ 1. And ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ may be intended as another nod in Fahey’s direction, viz. Fare Forward Voyagers or any of his works which hinted at his love-hate relationship with the Christian faith. However, as you will hear when he plays these tunes, they are by no means cover versions that remain faithful to their sources, and that’s putting it mildly, nor do they dwell in any known blues modes for more than five seconds at a time. While we’re looking at the cover, note how stark and unadorned it be with its sans-serif fonts and no images. Orcutt’s White Album, without a doubt. From October 2013.

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Another strong record from the Norwegian trio Cakewalk who we last heard with their 2012 debut album Wired; they use synths, guitars, bass and drums to produce excellent improvised instrumental work, situated somewhere more or less in the area of avant-garde rock music, but enriched with plenty of ideas, innovation, and just sheer tough-mindedness driving every note, plus a great approach to making records that ensures clarity, depth, and a straight left to the jaw for every listener. Stephan Meidell, Øystein Skar and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad work hard to escape cliché and over-familiar sounds, and they can be quite indignant if ever challenged about their supposed “resemblance” to any given band or genre of music: “chances are we’ve never listened to them”, they assert, when presented with a music journalist’s review studded with lists of references. For the most part, Transfixed (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2526) has a sombre and heavy approach in the performances which I would liken to holding a conversation with a troupe of heavy-set tattooed wrestlers who have somehow been awarded professorial chairs at a school of advanced study, and who now hold no truck with dissenters as they lecture from the podium on their chosen subjects with gravity and authority. This is especially true of the relentless chugging motion of ‘Ghosts’, a piece of music whose stern aspect is only slightly leavened by a surface of decorative electronic trills used about as sparingly as silver balls on a miser’s birthday cake; and the controlled hysteria of ‘Swarm’, which could be used to provoke a riot in any given crowded situation, for example the New York stock exchange floor. ‘Bells’ is trying a shade too hard to be more likeable, and in places could be mistaken for a media-friendly arthouse movie soundtrack, and ‘Dive’ is a misguided attempt to do the ‘bleak ambient’ thing, which this trio are not suited for; they’re just too loquacious for effective minimalism. But the remainder, ‘Dunes’ and especially the dour title track, deliver just the right tone of steely menace, all set to a thrilling rock beat. From 07 October 2013.

  1. That last title is its own double-edged sword; it famously appeared in Disney’s Song of the South, the kitschy 1946 movie which has since been frowned upon, for what are now perceived as racist themes.

The Deaf That Hath Ears

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Gabriel Saloman might be better known to you as GMS, one half of the estimable Yellow Swans with Pete Swanson. Since that band’s demise and Swanson utilising his production and mastering skills to become the Trevor Horn of the underground noise world, the Vancouver musician Gabriel has been pursuing his solo career with releases like Soldier’s Requiem (MIACD026) which is released on the Norwegian label Miasmah Recordings. An assured and confident statement of abject gloom, it starts out very boldly with the lengthy and interminable ‘Mine Field’, a tune which sets the tone of deep melancholy and slow-motion despair, with its aching piano chords, layers of plangent violin tones, and carefully-placed discordant ambient murk rumbling menacingly in the background. As mine fields go, this resembles a long slow tracking motion by a 16mm movie camera passing over Passchendaele by the time the engines of war have finished carving deep ruts in the surface of the earth. This “military” theme continues with ‘Boots on the Ground’, where a long dreary march through mud is conveyed by the rainfall sound effects and the deeply miserable guitar solo murmuring its plaint into a reverb chamber. If Saloman ever played a duet with Michel Henritzi, I expect their combined efforts would have a profound effect on the world’s weather systems, and it would never stop raining. ‘Cold Haunt’, the album’s closing track, builds up to a dramatic symphonic finish of sorts, the mixed minor keys and layers of stringed instruments producing emotive sensations that are almost too painful to endure. The cover art confirms the musical anti-war themes, not least with its skull-headed violin player reminding us of the fragility of human flesh, but also with its suffused monochrome tones which exactly match the pitch of this musical statement. Superfluous to add this beautiful record sounds like no Yellow Swans record I ever heard, and perhaps Saloman’s introverted and sensitive side was being stifled in among all the abrasive and distorted guitar-rock rhythms. From 26 September 2013.

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More items from the Norwegian label Van Fongool which arrived 27 September 2013. The trio As Deafness Increases have made a very impressive piece of focused, poised, quiet improvised music for their eponymous album (VAFCD007). The bassist Inga Margrete Aas, the guitarist Rudolf Terland Bjørnerem and the trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø manage to lock together perfectly as musicians, although as an alternative to “locking” perhaps a more apposite verb might be one that describes the actions of live sponges curling around each other in a ritual undersea dance which we’ll never see, and which amazes the local seahorses and other marine life. To begin with the players are not afraid to make sounds that we can hear, which is always a good start. While I hate to use this clichéd thinking about the role of the bass in a trio, the bass of Aas does indeed create the “skeleton” around which the others can wrap their fleshy blobs, and she achieves this by leaving large, intuitive gaps in her playing, suggesting twice as much volume by the use of silent space. I’m full of sculpting metaphors today; Inga Margrete Aas creates the armature. Nørstebø is good with the abstracted breathy rasps, generating the hoped-for sensations of mysterious snakes at work on the marble floor, but when he strikes a recognisable note he blasts forth with the chilly passion of a distant ship’s horn on a cold foggy night. Lastly we have the very versatile Bjørnerem whose “electro-acoustic guitar” contributes tuneful droney strum effects as well as the spiky forlorn notes that stab the air like the tongues of spiteful insects. I suppose the 20-minute ‘Svalbard’ is the shiniest example of their subtle craft, a slow and inscrutable piece which showcases a wide range of their effects, but also one which grows and shifts in a wholly natural fashion, coming close to creating a satisfying thought-through statement in music and almost restoring our faith in the power of free improvisation. But the other cuts have much to recommend them, such as the growly low-frequency rumblings of ‘Adib’, and the poignant clashes of long tones on ‘Adic’, one which prog fans might easily mistake as a lost improvised set between Fripp, Wetton, and David Cross in 1973. I like the first half of ‘Adia’ too, which is dominated by a gorgeous episode of “riffing” from Bjørnerem until it changes tack midway through, meandering down a lonely and distant corridor into ethereal nothingness. I see the bassist is now signed to ECM Records as one half of Vilde&Inga, while Bjørnerem has one album out on Editions Wandelweiser. Very good.

Inside Outside: a soaring ethereal voice above psych-folk electronica and abstract improv

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Source: http://sygilrecords.bandcamp.com/

Aurora Dorey Alice, Inside Outside, Sygil Records, cassette 013 (2013)

A gorgeous if sometimes slightly sinister and deranged psych-folk offering with a split personality  is to be found on this release from the increasingly eclectic Sygil Records which among other things has proffered black and doom metal recordings and industrial drone art. The first half of the album, the “Inside” part partakes heavily of glitch and fuzz electronica and woozy, zonked-out wash effects; the second “Outside” half drinks in found nature sounds and sparse abstract improv. Whether you like your music to be outdoors or indoors, one thing you’ll surely fall in love with is Aurora Dorey Alice’s voice which at times is floaty and ethereal, and at other times assertive and soaring above the often intangible and dreamy music.

I have to confess I’m more of an “indoors” gal here: the electronic soundtrack is gentle and slightly fizzy in sound and texture, dreamy in mood, and very other-worldly and shimmery overall. “Master / Apprentice” is a strong opening track that sets the tone for the rest of “Inside” to follow; indeed, it might just be the strongest piece on the whole album. The rest of the cassette is no bunch of slouching footnotes though. “Rain” is as close to country-western as ADA comes with its fast chugging-train rhythm and ADA’s own enraptured faux-Nashville vocal.

On the “Outside” half, the music is more acoustic and does not showcase ADA’s singing at all which is a bit disappointing because it’s her voice that really stands out on this recording. Here, the music could almost be one of many hundreds of live instrumental improv releases with flutes, found sounds and a not-too clear idea of where all the musicians are supposed to be going. It’s as if having found themselves out in the warm sunshine, the musicians decided to have a party and a snooze as well but not necessarily in strict alphabetical order of making music, partying and snoozing.

Nevertheless what we do get from ADA is to be treasured indeed: in range her singing straddles the divide between reality and the universe beyond, which already is far, far more than can be said for the current crop of mainstream female pop singers. I’m going to risk lying my head on the guillotine block and say ADA will be a significant influence on future female singers to come, even if her career does not turn out the way it should.

Anecdotal Evidence

ANECDOTES

Seamus Cater & Viljam Nybacka
The Anecdotes
NETHERLANDS ANECDOTAL RECORDS ANEC01 LP (2012)

Armed only with a vintage Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and a mixed bag of brass and percussion, Anecdotal Records head honcho Seamus Cater, Viljam Nybacka and their chums Shahzad Ismaily, Jeff Carey and Eiríkur Orri Ólafson present a beautiful set of subterranean soul searching sad songs.

In the same way as a douser searches for water with nothing more than a pair of divining rods, Cater unveils epic songwriting from the barest means. Despite years living in the Netherlands, Cater’s voice, despite not being completely free of inflection or Essex / East-End mannerism 1 is, however, engaging and clear and this is to his obvious advantage because the stories he’s got to tell on this record are certainly worth listening to.

The content of each presents a starting point for fruitful and fascinating research if you’re that way inclined. Cater’s publicity, I suspect, will probably wax lyrically about his British folk music family roots and the weight of such a history – I am aware that there is a contemporary resurgence of interest in British folk revivalism by our nation’s more broadminded youth but I’m not sure that this is essential to the existence of this record. In demonstration of his own contemporary folk-music credentials, Cater’s previous output has included a touring project with experimental banjo artiste Uncle Woody Sullender which resulted in a record on Dead Ceo called When We Get to Meeting.

One thing I must commend Mr Cater on is bringing the fascinating and obscure 1970s conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader to my attention on his very first song. He goes on to document the notable parts of another five historic figures’ lives to edifying effect. He does this in a poetic way with his lyrics and with the stripped back arrangements he employs on the limited palette of instruments. You get the feeling that every recorded sound is given much thought – Cater even employs a man – Jeff Carey – whose sole job on ‘Bas Jan Ader’ is simply stated as “reverb”.

‘Bas Jan Ader’ could be as much about Donald Crowhurst, another lone sailor who disappeared at sea six years before Jan Ader. Minimal Rhodes and drums. The line “…the second half of the trilogy / was to be left incomplete” refers to the fateful voyage being part of an unfinished piece of work by Jan Ader. Cater is indeed a skilled wordsmith albeit blessed with a slightly mannered vocal style; on the line “blow, blow the man down”, he sounds like he’s got a mouthful of soft fruit. On the end, the Morse Code for “Mayday!” is played on one-finger reed organ.

On the next track, ‘Muybridge Last Stand’, the duo utilise jaunty Rhodes piano paired with a muted trumpet. Cater has written some nice wonky lines like “when we touch / I’m such / a klutz”. The trumpet and horns are written and performed by Eiríkur Orri Ólafson.

Cater states ‘The Folk Music’ is about Ewan MacColl and the 50s-60s folk revival. Vocals and Rhodes only to start. This puts me in mind of an obscure uk band called Red Peal from the early 2000s who used a similar format to great effect. An accordion joins in. and a ukulele? Cater sings “who found the folk music? / who sang the folk music? / who made the folk music?” This prompts the question what exactly does Seamus Cater stand for? Is he a folk archaeologist or is he just interested in the trend for imagined neo-folk utopias?

The first track on side two is ‘Early Riser’. This one is about the ever-popular Salford painter LS Lowry. Cater can’t help but put in a dab of humour and a stroke of irony; “…I died nineteen six seventy / And Salford ain’t a place you want to be / But I heard they got / A new gallery”. While on the third track ‘The Piano’, “…Prokofiev was reportedly trying to outlive Stalin but didn’t manage…”

It is perhaps a bold move to release something like this in today’s market – i.e. a truly meaningful, understated yet emotional and personal version of popular song in an age of massive-scale live television trial by ordeal, such as X-Factor and The Voice not to mention the heinous new Westlife album and so forth. There’s a beautiful double-tracked harmony on the line “…you have been selected…” on ‘The Softest Horns’. Cater enunciates in a similar way to Syd Barrett or Robert Wyatt – I don’t mean he sounds anything like these singers – they all sing in their own voice/accent/dialect/whatever; not in the way you’re “supposed to” these days.

Vinyl edition of 500 of which this one in front of me is number 52, and includes a digital copy download code.

  1. At the time of writing, this could be said to be on-trend in popular song post Kate Nash.

Cults Percussion Ensemble (self-titled): a mix of kitsch and sublimely dreamy music

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Cults Percussion Ensemble, self-titled, Trunk Records, JBH046CD (reissued 2012)

A very obscure release from 1979, copies of which were usually sold privately by the group itself, this is a charming set of mallet music made by a group of 14-year-old girls working on xylophones, glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraphones and timpani drums under the guidance of their percussion teacher and conductor. The group got its unusual name from the girls’ home suburb of Cults in the city of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. The only thing that may be a little sinister about these lasses is the hypnotic and sometimes dreamy music that pours forth from their hammers which the youngsters apply to their instruments with a light and skilful touch.

Although a lot of the music on this album can be very cartoony and kitsch, there are some very beguiling pieces worthy of a band with a name like Cults Percussion Ensemble. Early track “Baia” is a gorgeously languid glide through shimmering lush tropical forest and turquoise-blue waters gently lapping sandy crescent beaches hugging the edges of palm-fringed islands. The ambience enchants the senses with jewelled raindrops of sound. Diamond tones seduce the mind into floaty journeys over coral reefs in tropical waters. “Circles” is an urgent hyper-energetic spin through a twinkling kaleidoscope of fragile tones. Amazing that young teenage girls could play music with such a light airy touch and delicate feel that landscapes they would have little or no familiarity with could spring fully formed from their hands and mallets. “The Little Dancer” must surely be the last word in music describing the lonely and melancholy path taken by a lone unnamed protagonist in her life’s journey.

“Two Jubilee Pieces” comes close to abstract experimental darkness as the girls race up and down the bars or carefully trace the orbits of planets circling a lonely red dwarf star in an atmosphere of stark introspection. After the halfway point, the music goes down a cloyingly kitsch direction and this part of the album, emphasising technical virtuosity and playing to its audiences, is the least satisfying section for this listener. The album picks up and ends on a high note with “Polymers”, a soulful atmospheric piece that features singing.

For such an old recording, the sound quality is very good with very little hiss, and the instruments seem fairly soft in tone. While I wish that the selection of music in the album’s second half could have been better and could have demonstrated more of the girls’ feel for and sympathy with their material, as opposed to merely exploiting their technical skills and speed in playing popular sentimental tunes, I’m aware that the material chosen may be all that has survived of their work.

A tidbit of historical interest is that the ensemble includes the virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie as a member.